Access the Cisco CLI with one of these five terminal emulators

The best way to manage the Cisco IOS is through a terminal emulator using the command-line interface (CLI). What's the best terminal emulator to use? David Davis asked TechRepublic members, and he's got five options for you to choose from.

In a recent article, I discussed creating a definitive list of Cisco management tools that should be in every administrator's toolbox, and I asked for TechRepublic members' help ("What's the best Cisco router configuration and management tool?"). Many of you chimed in with valuable suggestions. I've taken notes on all of the recommended products, and I'll be writing articles to introduce you to some of the lesser known — but very valuable — Cisco network management tools.

This time, I want to focus on a core tool that many members mentioned they had to have — a terminal emulator. It might not be the most glamorous area of networking tools, but it's an essential tool that you must have to use the Cisco IOS command-line interface (CLI).

The best way to manage the Cisco IOS is through a terminal emulator using the CLI. You can use a terminal emulator to connect to a router, switch, or firewall's CLI interface either over the network using Telnet or SSH protocols or over a serial line connected to the console of the device.

Members didn't disappoint with their recommendations for a terminal emulator. Here's a quick look at their suggestions. Let's find out how the terminal emulators recommended by readers compare.


A product of VanDyke Software, SecureCRT provides Telnet, serial, and SSH for the Windows OS. It offers a script recorder, logging, and multiple session windows.

SecureCRT integrates with SecureFX for file transfer, and it only works on Windows. I have seen SecureCRT used at Cisco sites and on Cisco testing computers. It's been around for a while (current version is 5.5), and Cisco fully supports it.

One copy costs $99 (U.S.). Figure A shows a screenshot of SecureCRT.

Figure A



An implementation of Telnet and SSH for Windows and UNIX platforms, PuTTY provides Telnet, serial, and SSH. It features a single executable to run and no installation. It supports logging, and source code is freely available. One downside is that the connection list isn't easily stored.

Currently in version .60, PuTTY hasn't seen heavy development, but it works great. Also available are PuTTYtel, PSCP, PSFTP, Plink, Pageant, and PuTTYgen, as well as hundreds of other products based on the source code of PuTTY.

Best of all, PuTTY is free. Figure B and Figure C show screenshots of the tool.

Figure B


Figure C


TeraTerm Pro

Available from Ayera Technologies' Web site, TeraTerm Pro provides Telnet, serial, and SSH for the Windows OS. It supports logging, and the source code is freely available. It offers a saved setup, as well as add-ons such as a macros editor.

Overall, this is a very nice terminal emulator. It's similar in look and feel to SecureCRT.

TeraTerm Pro is free. Figure D shows a screenshot of the tool.

Figure D

TeraTerm Pro

Windows telnet

Supported by the Windows OS, the telnet command provides Telnet only. It's only available at the Windows command prompt, and odds are good you're already familiar with this option.

Its biggest advantage is that it's free. Figure E offers a screenshot of using this option.

Figure E

Windows telnet command

Windows HyperTerminal

Also included in the Windows OS, the Windows HyperTerminal program provides Telnet and serial, but no SSH. It offers logging and XMODEM file transfer to get files onto switches or routers with the correct IOS.

While Windows HyperTerminal is also free, it can be frustrating to use sometimes. Figure F offers a screenshot of the program.

Figure F

Windows HyperTerminal

Of course, there are many more Windows terminal emulators than just these — including PowerVT, PowerTerm, WRQ Reflection, HotVT, TinyTERM, and BlueZone. For Linux, there are even more (such as Konsole).


There are some great terminal emulators out there available for no cost. In my opinion, it's worth the time to upgrade from Windows HyperTerminal or the telnet command — neither one of these options will likely do the job for you in the long run.

While PuTTY is great, TeraTerm Pro seems even more full-featured. And if you have some budget money to spend, SecureCRT is by far the best product.

One thing about terminal emulators is that no matter what network you work on or what type of Cisco network equipment you have, you have to have a terminal emulator — and you have to know how to use it.

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David Davis has worked in the IT industry for 12 years and holds several certifications, including CCIE, MCSE+I, CISSP, CCNA, CCDA, and CCNP. He currently manages a group of systems/network administrators for a privately owned retail company and performs networking/systems consulting on a part-time basis.